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Hypothermia saves girl from carbon monoxide poisoning

September 7, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
It's now the law: Every home in California must have a carbon monoxide detector. That will save countless lives, and for one local college freshman - the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning is all too real.

As one 18-year-old slept, an odorless gas leaking out of her parents clogged up wall heater was slowly killing her.

After nine hours of exposure, doctors felt Nikki Sedaghat's brain was nearly dead. If she survived she would be a vegetable.

But one young lady beat the odds thanks to a novel treatment at the UCLA Medical Center.

Thanksgiving 2010. It was so cold, 18 year old Nikki Sedaghat begged her parents to turn on the old gas heater in the guest house where she was sleeping.

That's all she remembers. When her mom went looking for her, she found the dog had vomited beside her, but Nikki wouldn't wake up.

When Nikki was taken to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, MRIs revealed her brain was deeply injured from oxygen deprivation.

The head of neurocritical care, Dr. Paul Vespa said areas supposed to be gray turned white.

Nikki fell into a coma.

In a hyperbaric chamber, technicians are able to pressurize the body to the equivalent of being 66 feet under seawater. At that level, the body can absorb six times more oxygen.

That wasn't the only therapy she received. Doctors decided to try something else.

"We usually use hypothermia when the heart stops, when there's a cardiac arrest," said Dr. Paul Vespa, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. "But hypothermia can be very protective of the brain when it's injured."

It was a long shot that worked. On the 35th day, Nikki woke up.

After months of therapy, Nikki's motor and cognitive skills have completely returned. She feels she survived for a reason.

Nikki will be returning to University of California-Santa Barbara this fall. And she's working with her friends to create an awareness campaign.

A California law effective July 1 requires all homes to have a carbon-monoxide detector.


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